At my daughter’s wedding in May 07, after polite greetings, the first thing one of the other principal parents said to me was, “My God, what’s gone wrong with CBC Radio Two all-of-a-sudden?” Of course, having worked there for a number of years in the 70s, I was thought to be something of an expert. I have kept in touch with friends inside, but quite a few of those folks have retired, or fled, like I did, in disgust. And the migration is happening again. The head of Radio Programming has just quit (related?), Danielle Charbonneau exited the new all-night show, Nightstream, in mid-Summer, and Shelley Solmes has disappeared from Here’s To You this Fall. I was hoping for Andrew Craig to follow suit, but no such luck yet.
I ran into a veteran music producer at a concert in June, who shrugged, as if it had been inevitable that the “nu Kulturati” (my phrase) would take over, and expressed his hope to retire soon. To cite his long and broad music broadcast experience would be to identify him, but he was someone with whom I worked way back then, when I seemed a bright young talent, interviewing Neville Marriner, Glenn Gould, Aaron Copland, and so on.
And I’ll put my cards on the table, by saying that I was so badly treated by program management, that I decided to buy a magazine, The FM Guide, and continued to work only in private radio, specifically CKFM, Toronto, then the biggest FM station Canada in terms of audience. I was never lied to, humiliated, and generally treated like shit in private radio the way I was at the “Corpse”, as the inmates call it, which is perhaps short for “The Canadian Broadcorping Castration”. So, yeah, maybe I’m still a little bit bitter, but a little bit better, too, I think. Leaving let me move to the career, or careers, which I’m still engaged in: writing, designing and publishing magazines; producing and engineering music recordings; and now operating and overseeing this large and very busy web site about music and home entertainment.
But for 30 years since those days, I’ve been an avid CBC-FM listener, especially to the Classical and Jazz programs, and concerts in each genre and in others, like Folk. It was nice to have these areas intelligently delineated into programs hosted by knowledgeable and experienced “presenters” (as the BBC calls them). The block programs for weekday morning and afternoon have been well produced, and the hosts popular, and a few of these fine talents have survived relatively intact in their roles, while others, terribly miscast in the new grind, have suffered fates I did not and would not wish for. Let me reflect on this.
The Peter Principle is always operative at the CBC, especially in radio. But it has its own perverse twist: it’s not that people are just elevated to their level of incompetence (that mostly happens in Corpse management), but they are shifted, like Hudson’s Bay department heads used to be (from Home Entertainment in Toronto to White Goods in Winnipeg), that is, to new and foreign assignments they don’t know and often don’t want to know. Right now, I suppose you could call it the Matt Galloway principle, where the jack of all programs gets into deeper and deeper mud (and probably stress), hosting here, and filling in there, and so on. He’s been noticeably absent on recent Canada Live programs, and was always the alien from AM, sorry, Radio One, chirping his intros and extros on the way home from the Radio One TO Here & Now afternoon program. Now that he’s disappeared, will we see Jill Dempsey? She’s now sneaking in the 4:05 Radio 2 weather. Long day. But I wouldn’t mind so much hearing her on Canada Live!
I may come back to nice, burbly contralto voices in a bit. But the first thing, the Signature of the niew Radio Tiew, is the voice I call “Promo Boy” (PB), a vaguely masculine “light baritone” (as the legendary Lamont Tilden once described me when I was training as an announcer in 1974). He oozes through incessant promos, mouth full of gum in seeming endless slobber. He’s also taken over Radio One, the maddeningly sarcastic original Promo Girl having gone off to have a baby (or a real career), I suppose. But she was better and easier to take, in these 30-second spots, than this current lubricious leftover from an old Molson commercial. So PB sleazes from show to show in his little dramas throughout the day, interrupting the flow of programs that have none, anyway, but we’ll get to that.
It seems Radio Tiew (as he pronounces it) is trying to get us to seek out his promos to find out what’s coming up on Radio Two. God knows, you wouldn’t necessarily find that info by looking at their web site!
“This Playlist Is Coming Soon”
This is the operative phrase found most often in their highly self-touted (verbally by PB, with extra saliva, of course) Playlist section of the Radiotwo.ca site. Canada Live is the worst offender in this regard, with concert play sheets often not appearing for days after the broadcast event, if at all.
And if you want to have hard copies, they turn out to be difficult to print. I’ve had to use my 11 x 17″ HP magazine-proof printer, with the big paper in it, to keep the type on the pages. And sometimes they won’t print completely, like the notes for the wonderful Latino-Klezmer band, Odessa/Havana recently, these, of course, showing up on the site a day after the broadcast. Somehow what was on the site ran off the bottom of one print-preview page and never made it onto the next one.
One could wish for a little basic competence in the area of site page formatting. And with all the white space on the left side, there’s no reason whatsoever it can’t all fit and print nicely on an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet or two. Is it style over substance, or just no substance at all?
The Mystery Meat In The Programming…
In my darker (and perhaps more ironic) moments I fantasize that Katie Malloch has a thing for beach boys and cabanas, as well as super-cool Motown Men like Al Green, not to forget some of the pathetic male would-be jazz singers that turn up all too frequently on Tonic. I’ve taken to calling the show “Toxic”, because so much of the music gives Jazz a bad name. She even seemed to apologize for this programming trend in a Globe & Mail interview in the Spring. But it only got worse after.
As I’ve hinted above, the combining of Latin and Klezmer music is quite appealing as realized by Odessa/Havana. Both musical genres developed in medieval Spain, anyway. But all that ricky-ticky bingo-bongo stuff they (”they” adding blame on the producers) shove into every Tonic show makes for a fast tuneout for me. And if the job isn’t completed by that, just add a little tired Temptations, or some other soulless commercial soul. I was outa’ there every night until I just gave up. And after I went on vacation I never came back until I started to research this rant. And this Fall, plus ca change…or as Bruce Cockburn wrote in one of his darker moments, “The trouble with normal is it only gets worse!”
But, then you can chill out later on The Signal, with the ever-ephemeral Laurie Brown (what is she smoking?). Here, the sausage gets weirder, with a definite off taste for me. I’ve taken to calling the program, “The Stigma”, and in its more memorable moments, “The Stigmata”. I’m not sure how young composers feel about having their music surrounded by a lot of even more obscure crap. This is exposure of our homegrown talent? I’ll take Two New Hours any Sunday night, or any night of the week, for that matter.
But let’s come back to the tainted meat in the evening sandwich, so to speak, Canada Live. Just the very name has become an oxymoron by the very nature and provenance of the programming. It’s not Canadian so much as mostly multicultural, and, as far as I can tell, never live, just recordings of performances. And again, the sausage machine is at work, with strange musical genre juxtapositions from hour to hour in any given show, and, without launching into a detailed critique, it too often contains performances that never should have seen national exposure for musical, and sometimes, technical reasons.
But the kicker is that, more often than not, you can’t find out beforehand what you’re going to get, because of the lack of a published playlist ahead of the broadcast. To find out, you have to listen earlier in the day for the little verbal turds from PB about what’s on. And that can be painful, too.
And here I have to ask the question: Is all this on purpose? Do they really want us to listen? Is there an internal subversion campaign going on to sabotage Radio Two programming?
And on a broader scale, just what demographic do the head honcho programmers really want to attract and hold? As far as I can tell, they’re already succeeding (in Toronto and the GTA at least), in sending jazz fans down the dial, and classical lovers just up the dial a bit, unless they can stomach Moses Znaimer’s own Pop Classics delicatessen a little higher in frequency (a phrase which also applies to the music played).
And on that note, I think I’ll stop for the moment. I haven’t dealt with daytime programming because it has suffered less, though I can almost see my old colleague Eric Friesen rolling his eyes from time to time. And Tom Allen? Well, the day he went on about head lice, I started to wonder if all those early mornings hadn’t finally gotten to him (I’ve done morning shows, too!). But I’ll never know what else he went on about, because I spend what morning radio time I have with the charming, burbling contralto of Sherri Barbour on WNED-FM. I’m afraid that for most of my serious radio listening I’ve pretty much buried the Corpse.
First Response From A Reader:
Great article on Radio 2, Andrew. Congratulations! How can we get this item more exposure? You have summed up the situation perfectly.
I had 30 years with the ABC in Australia, the last 10 working with ABC Classic FM. That station still sounds great today, but it has gone through a few really bad patches also. I still listen to it on line. I am taking a photostat copy of your article and I’m going to make sure that some ex-CBC pals of mine here on Salt Spring Island get it as well.
I am amazed that so many incompetent fools now seem to be running the CBC. I have written to all of them and made my complaints well known. Of course, I get the usual sort of replies, mostly condescending. I have given up, and now I never listen to the CBC anymore, though my wife still has it on in the kitchen during the day, so I hear a bit by osmosis. It’s awful with all those promos by this idiot, who sounds as though he’d make a very bad second-hand car salesman!
Don’t stop your writing. You say it much better than I do, so keep it coming, but see if you can reach a bigger audience than you already do.
Regards, Rick Weston.
Further Thoughts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s another comment:
I am another member of the disaffected cbc radio 2 audience. Like you, I am mystified by the marketing department, who seem not so much to have identified target audiences as concocted them. Who in the name of Apollo is subjecting herself to the sampled faucet-dripping and burping (I exaggerate only in the case of the latter) that represents typical fare on The Signal? Not to mention concertos for the electric zither and I-have-a-degree-from-Princeton-but-am-tone-deaf.
The promos to ingratiate us to radio “personalities” aspire to inanity.
Anyway, I now listen to BBC radio online.
Tara May Vancouver, BC
And here’s one cadged from the Globe & Mail site in response to Pinchas Zukerman’s recorded comment that without Classical music people will riot in the streets…
Robert Mulvaney from Goderich, ON, Canada writes: As CBC2 continues its deplorable anti-classical music policies, Zukerman’s comment is worthy of consideration. The rhetoric may be exaggerated, but the threat to civility epitomized by the decline of good music in our lives is very real. Zukerman’s comment should be taken as a call for renewed efforts to educate the public in fine art. CBC 2 does the public no such service in its new programming.
And here’s another missive from a long lost listener…
Hello Andrew: Again a voice from the past. It seems that our paths cross once in each decade. Online for only a few years now, I have enjoyed your website and I am quite impressed with its new format.
The [CBC] decline is not sudden, it started decades ago. I am still saddened by how Bob Kerr’s programming was gradually dumbed-down. He once was sufficiently exasperated to say on air “I’d like to do more challenging things, but I could lose the show.” Certainly there were periods of acceleration in the decline, and a precipitous drop last year, but decline seemed integral to “Holy Mother Corp” I finally gave it up as a lost cause; and from the beginning of the year have used only Radio One for two news broadcasts each day.
Moving back to Halifax in 2005, we left the tuner behind—at the prospect of only having CBC available. I have since discovered online radio and have regained VPR [Vermont Public Radio] CLASSICAL (www.vpr.net ) and my old favorite, WQXR— which I fondly remember listening to on AM radio as a child. (www.wqxr.com). There is also WFMT in Chicago, which unfortunately appears [to be] a subscription service— but most of their broadcast concerts are also carried by VPR Classical. Last week we enjoyed the Berlin Philharmonic from Carnegie Hall (Ades’: “Tevot”, and Mahler’s ” Das Lied…”, on WNYC, broadcast live.
Taken all in all, I do not miss CBC.
John Edward Bain, Halifax
Yet another informed opinion…
I am also totally distressed by these changes having been a Cassical FM fan since I was a child listening to BBC Radio 3 in London, so much so that I ended up working at BBC as a recording engineer (and then on to Canada and four Gemini awards for film sound work). I found a web site with a petition and helped to publicise it, (1000+signatures), www.radio2forum.ca , and I think it has been shown to management, but the woman who started the web site petition is so discouraged that she feels that not much more can be done.
Comments in the press by management and the politics at the top do not seem to distinguish between arts programming on FM and all the other media. The promos are the nail in the coffin for me: any manager of a classical channel that would allow these gross promos should not be allowed near the station.
It also seems extraordinary to me that no major musical critic from the national press or any of the musical organisations have made any comment. If you can think of any contacts or strategy to get more pressure on management to reverse these changes, please feel free to get back to me, my Magnun Dynalab tuner is [now] severely under used.
Here’s another response from an aggrieved ex-listener:
I recently wrote to WNED in Buffalo, suggesting that, if they beefed up the power of their FM 94.5 transmitter a little, they could practically take over the classical music radio scene in the GTA and increase their subscription base as well.
No answer yet. Is it likely that such suggestions would cause fear and trembling among the CBC heirarchy? Ha ha! They’ve probably never heard of WNED.
Regards and keep up the attack.
And the author’s less-than-hopeful reply…
[And here are some further thoughts I didn’t include in my immediate email reply: the Canadian digital radio system, on the L Band, has failed utterly, killed largely by the lack of support by those broadcasters half-heartedly doing it in Canada, including the CBC, and its lack of synchronization with the US IBOC (in-band-on-channel) system, which piggybacks the digital radio onto the 100 kHz sidebands that were meant to eliminate the very interference problems that exist between close-together FM stations.
WNED-FM is, in fact, broadcasting this digital signal, with their FM-classical low-bit digital signal on one side of their centre frequency, and their AM-news low-bit signal on the other side of the 94.5 signal. Modulated at very low levels that make them impossible to receive at more than about 40 miles, they do, I believe, bleed transmission power from the main FM-stereo signal, and cause nasty digital noise signals, making the main WNED-FM stereo signal even more difficult to receive in fringe areas north and west of Toronto, like King City where I live. And I have an antenna tower and a dedicated high-gain FM-only antenna.
I can receive HDTV video signals from Buffalo with ease on all their channels (including the 3 WNED digital TV stations), but not WNED-FM as well as I used to, I believe, because of this IBOC digital radio signal. The great irony is that this particular technology is named HD-RADIO, but is nothing of the kind, just a low-resolution digital signal system that is definitely not high fidelity, but crappy audio on a par with the lowest quality iPod resolution. And it degrades distant reception of the main analog FM-stereo signal. Now, there’s something to write WNED about!]
Because Ontarioans are now denied a proper Canadian classical music service (except Moses Znaimer’s commercial claptrap pop-classical potboilers station at 96.3), then I, and many others, believe protest is the only remaining option.
Here’s the reply form WNED-FM’s Chief Engineer to Ian McColl’s letter. He addresses the 94.7 issue, but does not deal with the fact that the Hamilton station should never have been licensed for that frequency in Southern Ontario. I guess it’s just a burden he has to bear silently, as WNED-FM has lost thousands of listeners and potential donors in the Hamilton corridor due to Canadian bureaucratic stupidity or cupidity (you decide which!).
Indeed, we would love to be able to increase our signal strength -
We are available on the web, streaming at www.wned.org. If you are able
Thanks very much for listening (or attempting to!)
Joseph C. Puma
Russell Smith’s columns in the Globe & Mail resulted in some comments directed here, as well as numerous letters to the newspaper.
Rick Phillips has just announced the end of Sound Advice after 14 years. He noted that the first program in the replacement series will be an interview with Leonard Cohen. One more sign of deterioration in CBC Radio 2. Thought you might be interested in the following letter to the Globe And Mail after their Wednesday March 5 story “Radio 2 plans less weekday classical music.” The Globe printed the last half of the letter:
So, the CBC Radio 2 demolition squad will finish this phase of its work in September. By that time thousands who had the benefit of an adult education in good music from CBC hosts like Bob Kerr and Ken Winters in the past and now Eric Friesen, will be gone, listening to other stations around the world. Jennifer McGuire, executive director of radio commented that” … overall ratings haven’t dropped as significantly as anticipated …. ” Is the next phase a cross-country campaign to get classic[al] music listeners to abandon Radio 2 completely?
Keep up the good work.
I just read your article on CBC Radio 2 and it’s good to see something in print that takes a
I have also written on blogs as well as to the CBC ombudsman to register my dissatisfaction. The
To me CBC FM has been one of the most unifying Canadian experiences of my life. CBC has always been there - from Bob Kerr to 2 New Hours, CBC was my source for classical music from ancient to modern. Asides from classical as a teen I used to tune into Brave New Waves to make tapes of music that was outside of the norm and was impossible to hear in rural Canada (it’s amazing how many friends I know shared the same experience in small
I would almost guess that what the execs have in mind is applying chinese water torture to its audience so that they eventually die off and CBC 2 can be officially canned - if not, then the people in charge are truly idiotic. As I write this, I understand that Disc Drive is to be axed - this seems a real shock, as the format of playing an ‘eclectic’ mix has been used for every other show. As I said to CBC, trying to capture a younger audience by being hip is just going to annoy the regulars and young people don’t and won’t care anyway.
Maybe we need a CBC radio 4 like the BBC, which can play all the hairshirt classical stuff - something committed, solid and cultured. Yes, culture - isn’t that what we are talking about
It is a great shame that new generations will miss out on the kind of programming I grew up on - I still remember feeling shock when Bob Kerr quit…I’m sure he’s in a better place now, R.I.P.
p.s. try and see the film ‘To Play and to Fight’ ,about
Here’s yet another response after all the coverage in The Globe & Mail:
Bravo Andrew!I too would like to hear that Andrew Craig is deep-sixed but I fear that he represents the new minds (or mindless new) at the renovated CBC 2! I was appalled to hear him translate Les pleurs as “the crying” when he was attempting to introduce a selection whose name I can’t recall, probably due to shock. He’s in good company with the rest of our “hosts”, especially “Gregory Charles and the others.To put all this in context, I think that the destruction of Radio 2 is deliberate and in line with the destruction of our health care and education systems. We have to protest: our tax dollars are being misspent everywhere we look. It’s too bad that we are losing Radio 2 to babble and irritating noise. I turn the radio off more and more as in BC there are few alternatives. I will search out the internet sites mentioned by one of your correspondents. It was good to read your comments as I felt less isolated and depressed than usual every time I turn on “Radio Tiew” ! (I find PB irritating as well! )Lynda
Fear Not! Another analysis (read tirade) is coming from me very soon, as soon as the clipping pile reaches critical mass in my mind. As a teaser, their ads defending the wrecking of Radio 2 are so idiotic, insensitive, and culturally naive enough to suggest the whole re-program is based on another cultural revolution that happened halfway around the world a few decades back!
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